Newkirk: For Breckenridge’s parking problem, think outside the concrete box — think gondola! (column)
March 22, 2018
I've consistently opposed a parking structure in the middle of Breckenridge, whether pushed by the ski area or, now, by the Town Council. I was pleasantly surprised, even impressed when this council stood up to Vail Resorts, looked at other options and actually spent some semi-serious money on the roundabout at 4 o'clock and Park.
But now we're back to a parking structure. Where did that forward thinking council go? Obviously it's frustrated with Vail Resorts over the Gondola Lots. Maybe it got too enamored with the warm fuzzies of getting something done. But now it's faced with sticker price shock and substituted itself for Vail Resorts as the poster child for over development. No easy feat.
I get it. Balancing parking, traffic and green space is a thankless job, especially with the complication of essentially being a one-horse town. Regardless, a parking structure on F-Lot is a turd, to borrow Lee Edwards' phrase. The need to limit the parking spaces created to prevent Park Ave from having to be four lanes says it all. It sacrifices the last potentially significant green space in town. The site plan is enough to make anyone with an environmental instinct cry. Let's see how much polluted runoff we can pour into the Blue River before all the fish die. Where are the negative points for that?
Upgrading the current remote parking on Airport Road with gondola transit to town is a viable alternative. Latin American cities Mexico City, Medellin, Cali, Caracas, Rio de Janeiro and La Paz all have integrated cable cars into their transit systems. The one in Mexico City is three-miles long and carries 18,000 people a day. Even though it was just a slow-motion two-banger when I rode it years ago, Telluride has done it and Vail Resorts has already shown it can work well here too, even if they did it just to get Peak 8 parking off-site.
Wind may occasionally create a nightmare, but it's a flexible approach, it's got sex appeal — think late night summer rides, its construction impact is limited and it's probably in service faster than a garage, avoiding an 18-month trauma. It's probably a faster car-to-slope time and definitely less stressful than getting to and parking in an F-Lot garage, especially on busy days. And if Breckenridge truly wants to be more pedestrian friendly, promote the Blue River as one of its biggest assets (something Silverthorne understands) and build on the success of the Riverwalk Center, a gondola with a stop at the Transit Center and terminating on F-Lot in the middle of a park is a no brainer.
Mass transit via a gondola is everything a parking garage on F-Lot is not, with less traffic and pollution as a cherry on top. You just have to think outside the concrete box.
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A town report deemed it physically feasible last July, but council seems to have dismissed this alternative as too expensive. Really? How's the price comparison to a garage look now? Eventually, accompanying garage(s) and better egress from Highway 9 would be needed to make the remote parking more user friendly and efficient, but money could be saved up for those improvements, which might also take pressure off the existing Transit Center. Include a free, privileged parking area for employees and you soothe a real sore spot among locals and their employers.
If you think people won't use it, check in with Mike Dudick about pay parking. Or look at the plastic bag ban, one I'm embarrassed to admit that I originally opposed. Or the restaurant smoking ban. People's habits and even attitudes can be changed fairly easily when it's the right thing to do and, yes, when they have no other choice.
Council needs to make a better case for moving forward with a garage than saying that a traffic plan will make the increased traffic tolerable, a prayer that even a garage believer probably gags on. If they can't, they should put it to a public vote. Referendums are a poor way to govern but appropriate when a community sits at a crossroad. Think pot sales on Main St. a few years ago. Pushing on just to push on is not acceptable.
It's critical to get this right; there won't be a second chance unless you think the oncoming electric, self-driving, ride hailing revolution will change everything. But that would just make the parking structure a relic as well as an eyesore. As frustrating as it may be, Council needs to slow down. Take out your frustration with VR by bypassing them. A parking structure on F-Lot is not the long term answer; just look at the Town of Vail on any weekend, summer or winter. Vail had few other options. Breckenridge does. And I still like living in a place that is not Vail, at least not yet.
Dave Newkirk lives Breckenridge.
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